Humour
and science communication

Carlos Lee is general manager of EPIC, the European Photonic Industry Consortium. On the Light and Innovation Day organised by Opticsvalley on April 14 2015, he presented photonics with quite a bit of humour. An unforgettable show that charmed us here at Agent Majeur.

Where did you learn to communicate so easily?

I grew up in Spain, in Torremolinos, one of the most popular tourist towns of the Costa del Sol. In the evening, hotels used to run shows with all sorts of animations. At the age of ten, I started performing in magic shows by myself. This is where I learned to catch the attention of the audience and developed a taste for oral communication.

Are your speeches always witty?

No, they are seldom witty! Since I joined EPIC, I have been presenting the organisation, photonics and its multiple applications in the field of automobile, transportation, environment and energy. In general with engineers I use a provocative tone to shake them up. And with politicians and CEOs, I prefer to play the seduction card and show them the purpose of photonics and of investments in this field.

What is your goal when using humour?

When it comes to communicating about photonics, I use humour as a form of outreach especially towards youngsters; to make them laugh, grab their attention and keep them interested. On Opticsvalley Day, I wanted to break the ice. The goal of my speech was to promote the organisation, but what I really wanted was for the audience to remember it.

How do you write your speeches?

When I work on a speech, I don’t think of the joke I will make. Above all, I work on the structure of my speech and the message to convey. It is only when that’s done that I start thinking about the form of my speech and adapt it to the audience I will face. I also improvise sometimes!

Where do you find inspiration? Your examples?

I work a lot: all my life is centered on my professional activity. When I have ideas that may make people laugh, I write them down. The solar camel, that carries solar panels on its back to power fridges containing vaccines, is an example that works rather well. I use these examples when I need to make a big impact. The photonic field is filled with applications that are easy to understand and to appropriate.

Can we joke about any science subject?

No, I don’t think so. Some subjects are much more sensitive than others. Joking about some diseases or military applications could be very shocking. I don’t advise it.

Is humour one of your character traits?

Definitely not! I’m not this funny guy in my day-to-day life. On the contrary, I am rather grumpy. A presentation is a bit like a show. Look at Mister Bean, for example. When he leaves the stage, when he stops being in character, he turns back into the very earnest Rowan Atkinson!

Are credibility and humour compatible?

You must be cautious… Using humour is a little like not wearing a tie: you take the risk of getting a bad image. This is why I don’t always dare to laugh. In any case, not with everybody. I must be careful with my image and that of my organisation.

How can you find the right balance?

I don’t think there is a balance. You need to adapt the style and content of your speech to your audience. And to use humour, you must be sure to have an audience that will react positively.

Visit Carlos Lee’s YouTube channel.

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> Science communication

> Public Speaking

> Popularising Science

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